We held the annual Summer Seminar at the Friends’ Meeting House, Manchester on Monday, June 13, 2016. As with previous years, there was a Recruitment Panel ready to answer your questions about securing employment in the sector. On the panel this year were Elisabeth Thurlow, Archivist at St. George’s, University of London; Alex Hodge, Information Manager for The Grosvenor Estate; Janet Foster, Director of the Archive Skills Consultancy; and Emily Hick, Paper Conservator at Edinburgh University. Chairing the session was SfNP committee member Sara Brimble.
Q1. Once you got your first professional post, how did you know what to do on your first day?
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed as to whether you’re up to the job and how you’re going to be successful. If you still have them, go over your university notes and textbooks and refresh what you had been taught on the course. Utilise social media, such as Twitter to connect with other professionals and seek their advice. Some of them would be more than willing to share any resources they’d created when starting a new job. Ask lots of questions, not just from your line manager, but from other professionals in the wider network. Don’t be afraid to get in touch with total strangers in the same line of work. Sign up for listservs and get in touch with people that way. Go visit other professionals to see what they’re working on.
It’s also important when starting a new job to sit down with your manager to find out exactly what is required of you and to discuss ideas. Job descriptions don’t always list all of your duties. If working with limited resources, see what you have available and what your limitations are before rushing in to complete a task. Make a plan and think it through. Use professional networks if there’s no-one else to ask.
Lastly, make sure you remember your work colleagues’ names and what they do!
Q2: For people on short-term contracts, what tips does the panel have for looking for the next opportunity, and how honest should I be about the kind of things I’m applying for and what I want to do?
If you’re on a fixed-term contract, you need to be honest with your manager about looking for other jobs when your contract is coming to an end. If you’re relying on your boss for a reference, you need to make them aware you’re looking elsewhere. Make it clear that you’re available to stay if possible. Also let your manager know that you’d need to take time to have job interviews. You may need to use annual leave to do so.
In terms of actually looking for jobs, keep an eye on the listserv as many jobs are advertised on here rather than ARC. Utilise any networks or groups you’re in. For future jobs, you also need to make yourself indispensable. Go beyond your job description and do something that makes you stand out, such as organise a symposium. Do a bit more than is necessary to be good at your job.
Q3: When applying for jobs, if you’re not currently working and the application form asks you to put down your current job, what do you write?
If you’re volunteering, put that down. Any experience is good. If it’s linked to the job you’re applying for, then you can link it to the current job. It sounds better than being unemployed. If you’re not volunteering, put the last job you had. If you haven’t had a previous job, then put that it’s the first professional post you’re going for. Remember to put course experience down as well as any placements undertaken during your studies.
Q4: How do you keep an eye out for jobs/opportunities? What’s the process of finding work?
It helps to have a good online profile. Social media, especially Twitter, is a great way of being visible. Many jobs are posted on Twitter, such as from The National Archives (TNA) and London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) Sell any specialist skills you may have. Sign up to the listserv as lots of jobs are posted on here. Join up to LinkedIn as some people have been approached by employers this way.
Q5: Do job applications always have to go through Human Resources before they get through to archivists or records managers? HR wouldn’t necessarily know the special skills that are needed for the position.
In many organisations, the applications go direct to the archivist or records manager involved in the hiring, and HR never got to look at them. In some places, HR just collate applications and pass them on to the key people. However, in some places, HR are more involved and sometimes are even on the interview panel. It is important also to make sure you write a good all-round application. It’s important to highlight the specialist skills, but so is writing well and having good basic application skills. These will likely make your application more likely to be noticed.
Q6: With online application forms, in the personal statement area where you have to provide examples of how you’ve demonstrated key criteria, is it best to write in bullet points or write a paragraph for each? How best to make your application stand out when there are lots of applications coming in?
Use bullet points. Copy and paste the Person Specification/Job Description and then under each bullet point you’d write about how your experience matches that point. Put the text of the bullet point in bold to make it obvious it’s a heading. Sometimes you’re limited by space so you can only give so much information. You have to determine how much information to give. Make sure you read what people are asking in the application form and think about what is the best example you can give.
In the public sector it’s more the online application, whereas in the private sector it’s more the covering statement and a CV; therefore, make sure you answer the question in the covering statement.
Often, a question as to why you want to work here can be answered in the personal statement. Explain why you want to work there. What is it about that archive that excites you? When applying for so many jobs to remember that you’re saying to the recruiter “I’m not just wanting a job, I want that job”. You need to tailor your application for that place, not a blanket application for each job you’re applying for.
Make sure you research where you’re being interviewed. Tear apart their website, look at the news. Make sure you make the time to show why you want that particular job. Read annual reports before the interview. Get solid facts about the organisation. What is going on there? Get facts and figures. Shows you’ve looked at that particular place.
Part 2 of the Summer Seminar Recruitment Q&A will be posted on August 12, 2016.